Palm Sunday’s palm parade is Jesus’ way of showing God’s kingdom as compared to the kingdom of Rome. It’s a protest the powers that be, and the belief that “this is the way is has to be” and a sign of hope that there is a better way- God’s way.
Here is my Refection from this past Sunday, when we celebrated “Palm Sunday”.
We see in Zechariah that this victorious king comes riding on a donkey colt. This is a sign of humility and a sign of peace. You can’t fight a war on the back of a donkey colt. And it is the same in Mark. This isn’t just because Jesus was too tired to walk on his own. And book study this week, Susan’s daughter Brooke mentioned she had walked the road down from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem, and it was not a long walk. It is a sign and a symbol of the peace and justice that Jesus preaches in God’s kingdom in opposition to the kingdoms of the world.
I didn’t know this until few years ago, but at the time Jesus was riding in Jerusalem, there was another procession happening. Pilate was arriving in Jerusalem from the other side. As governor, he lived in a beautiful place by the sea, but he would have arrived, in Jerusalem for the Passover. Not as a pilgrim, as Jesus, and his fellow Jews would have done, but as a show of Roman might in case anyone got the wrong idea and decided to rise up against Rome. Remember, the Passover celebrates the way that God rescued the Jews from another oppressive kingdom- Egypt. And Judea is under Roman oppression now- with a governor from Rome, with temple priests and authorities put in place by Rome, and working on their behalf as well. In the book The Last Week, Borg and Crossan called this the domination system: you have political power and vast wealth in a few hands, who dominate the rest, and a widespread sense-among the powerful and the powerless- that “this is just the way it has to be” either because God made it this way, or just “this is the way it always has been”.
Pilate’s procession would have had soldiers, horses, weapons, everything necessary to take down a riot, and his procession would have been a good show of might in order to prevent it from happening.
So Jesus’ procession is almost like a parody of Pilate’s procession, except instead of showing it as ridiculous, he’s showing it as opposite to God’s kingdom. As the one “who comes in the name of the Lord”, Jesus does not come with a show of earthly power. He comes humbly, on a donkey, he comes in the way of the king that Zechariah wrote about- a king whose kingdom is marked by peace- a breaking of the weapons of war, and cutting off of armies.
Later in this Holy week, we’ll see Jesus preaching and engaging with the temple authorities, but here, it is just Jesus and his followers. Jesus on a donkey, not a war horse, surrounded by followers waving palm branches cut from the trees, not soldiers holding banners and arms with swords.
It’s a protest, but more so, it’s a symbol- of a better way- of God’s way- showing that there is a different way to be in the world. It doesn’t have to be this way- with power and privilege being used to dominate and oppress others. It’s doesn’t have to be about might, and about the kingdoms of this world fighting against one another. God’s way is a way of humility, of peace, of joy.
Now we today don’t have an empire exactly like Rome. But we do have political power and wealth accumulated by a few, and people who abuse their power, and we do have a sense that this is the way it has to be. And not resisting it. Why else do we have such low voter turnout every election?
We live in a country that in general, has good regulations and social systems to care for those who are marginalized. But we do have some similarities with Judea in Jesus’ time which is occupied by Rome. But we also live in a country that was founded on land that had been originally occupied by other nations. Our history is one of the oppression and genocide and abuse of Indigenous people. And I’d like to say, that it’s all in our history. But we know it’s not. We were reminded of this recently, we had two trials that ended, for the deaths of Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine, and justice was not achieved for either of these deaths.
I think anyone who keeps their ears or eyes open in our country nowadays knows that the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is not yet reconcilied. We know the terrible legacy of residential schools, and colonization, and the effect on the Indigenous people of this land. And we know about the terrible conditions on reserves, and we know about the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and we know about the higher incarceration rates, and racial profiling.
And yet, most of us, who are not Indigenous, let it be that way. I hope we’re past the bad theology of a couple hundred years ago, saying God made it this way, that the white people were meant by God to come here and civilize the people who lived here. But I think there is still a sense of “this is just the way it is”; if she hadn’t done this, that never would have happened.
But yet- even in our country’s culture of the oppression of Indigenous people, we see hope. We see protest, we see symbolic actions, signs that there is another way. Last summer, when we celebrated 150 years of this country’s history, a teepee was erected on Parliament Hill, a reminder, and a call to make the next 150 years better for us all.
This past few weeks, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have come together, in candle light vigils, in protests, in walks, to comfort one another and to demand better justice for Indigenous people- recognizing that this is not just their tragedy, it is our tragedy.
And there is more than just symbols. An Indigenous Manitoba party leader elected. Recently Bill C262 passed the second reading, another step towards making sure the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is enshrined in our laws.
Jesus could have done things a much different way. He could have just entered Jerusalem with no fanfare, not protested, not spoke out about injustice, not got into conflict with those in power. He could have done things a lot differently, that would have been a lot easier for him, and he probably would have lived longer. And then we wouldn’t be here today, because that wasn’t why Jesus came. He came to preach the kingdom of God- of love and peace and justice for all people. And one that is near at hand, but can’t be fully here unless all people actually get to enjoy it. We, as Jesus’ followers today, get to be a part of that kingdom. But we also have a call to work for justice, to make it more fully present.